Informal (Out-of-Court) Agreements for Children from Birth to 3 Years Old

Introduction

The first step in building your co-parenting plan is to find a way to share information about your child without arguing or fighting. For many parents, that means changing the way they think about and talk with each other. Try the tips below for starting this new kind of relationship.

Hit the “reset” button on your relationship with the other parent.

This is not your romantic relationship — leave your negative feelings in the past.

Co-parenting is like a business relationship. Your business is raising your kid. Think of yourselves as business partners who are working together to achieve a “business” goal—to raise a healthy, happy child. You will be in a co-parenting relationship with this person for many years. Keep conversations polite and professional, just like you’d want the other parent to talk with you.

Set some ground rules for yourself — and stick to them.

Make some promises about how you will talk to and about the other parent. Use this Co-Parenting Ground Rules and Promises Worksheet to remember.

Remember that you only have control over yourself. You can’t control how the other parent behaves, but you can control how you ACT and how you REACT. You have a choice about how you behave in front of your child.

Choose your words carefully.

The way that you talk about your family will change the way you, your child and others think about your family … so choose your words carefully.

Here are some samples to help you and the other parent create a schedule that meets your family’s needs. These are not enforceable through the courts unless they are approved by the judge. Include specific start and ending times and days and what happens if one of you cannot follow the schedule.

Parenting babies and toddlers requires lots of planning and communication about their ever-changing needs. There are many things to think about when creating a plan to parent a child younger than age 3. A standard possession order may not be the best option. Don’t forget to align your plan with the schedules of any brothers or sisters.

Design your parenting time schedule to help your child form a meaningful relationship with both parents and any siblings. Informal schedules are not court ordered and cannot be enforced through court unless the plan is filed with the court and approved by the court. The strength of parenting plans lies in the commitment of parents to make them work.

After a breakup, parents must hit the reset button and adjust to working together to help their children succeed—by having contact and support with two loving parents. This can be a challenge. Your child is worth the effort. Below are several things to consider when putting together an informal plan. You cannot enforce an informal plan through court. If the parents cannot agree, then both must follow the court order.

Very young children change so quickly that it is hard to fit their needs into a court schedule. You and the other parent can develop a plan that allows both parents to actively participate in caring for their child. Plug in a time to review and update as necessary. The plan for a newborn will be quite different from the plan that works for a 2-½ year old.

Use this parenting time worksheet for discussion and write down some of the details of parenting time.  Meet every few weeks to see if it needs adjusting to fit your baby’s nap time and waking time.

Let the Other Parent Be a Parent

It’s hard to let go of control of your child, but that’s just what you have to do. It’s best for your child to have two parents who raise and care for her—not one parent and one adult she sometimes “visits.” Below are sample plans to consider when putting together your informal plan. An informal plan means the court cannot enforce it. The plan is as strong as the parents’ commitment to it. Flexibility and the ability to consider what is best for the child will make developing and adjusting plans easier. Parents can customize a plan to fit their work schedules and what they agree is best for the child.

Sample Plans

Summary of Parenting Time Schedules. Pick one of these plans or make your own that you initial. Fill in the hours (such as noon to 4 p.m., or 3 p.m. until 8 p.m.) The charts below are samples. The orange color indicates the time the child is with the noncustodial parent.

Click here to download this information in an editable MS Word document: Sample Parenting Time Plans

Plan No. Description of Parenting Plan Birth-24 months 24 – 36 months
1 Three periods of 3-5 hours spaced throughout each week
2 Two periods of 4-6 hours spaced throughout each week
3 Two 3-5 hour periods + one 8-hour period spaced during each week
4 Two periods of 3-6 hours and one overnight each week

parenting time plan calendars

Things to Think About

  • Your Child — Her age, her personality, how easily (or not) she adjusts to change, and any special needs she might have
  • Caring for Your Child — How much time has each parent spent taking care of your baby? Before your separation? Recently? How would you like to share responsibilities in the future?
  • Parents’ Relationship — Your ability and willingness to talk with each other and get along in front of your child
  • Daily Schedules — Your child’s, yours, the other parent’s, and any other family members who may be affected by a schedule change
  • Distance — Between each parent’s home, work, child’s daycare, or any other place you go daily
  • Separation – How will separation from either parent affect your child?
  • Siblings – Does your child have a brother or sister and will they have the same schedule for parenting time?
  • Other People – Are there other people in the home? How will their presence affect your child?
  • Warm-up Time- If one parent hasn’t had much (or any) recent contact with your child, it’s best to gradually increase time with that parent to give your child a chance to build comfort and trust.

Keep in mind that children age 0 – 3 change a lot in a very short period of time. As your child changes, your plan will need to change, too.

Advantages of Plans 1, 2, and 3:

  • The baby has frequent but short visits with the noncustodial parent
  • Offers consistency and predictability
  • Custodial parent gets a few breaks throughout the week

Disadvantages of Plans 1, 2, and 3:

  • There are 6 exchanges each week, which might be difficult if parents don’t get along.
  • The week may seem a bit “choppy” or broken up.

Advantages of Plan 4:

  • Baby has frequent but short visits with the noncustodial parent.
  • Custodial parent has a few breaks throughout the week.
  • There is consistency and predictability.

Disadvantages of Plan 4:

  • There are 5-6 exchanges each week, which might be difficult if the parents don’t get along
  • The week may seem a bit “choppy” or broken up.

Making Adjustments. You and the other parent will need to adjust your plan as your baby grows and develops. It’s a good idea to review your plan at least every four months and ask yourself if it is still working for your baby.

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